Archive for the ‘Typeface Key Influencers’ Category

Why Warhol?

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Why am I obsessed with Andy Warhol?

Warhol’s work and the way he thought about his work resonates. It’s intentionally throwaway, technically perfect but deliberately imperfect at the same time, his subjects are immediately recognisable because he shamelessly recycled culture under the guise of providing culture. He took the disposable and drew attention to it. His work was aggressively aware; in fact, it’s borderline abusive in its delivery because if you don’t know anything about the subject or the process or the context around the subject, or why the subject was even chosen in the first place; well then it simply doesn’t care.

Warhol’s work took its subjects and basked in their incredibility, it made them available and by extention it made itself credible. It could be purchased, an ‘original’, for a price that you could afford. Can’t afford a full-size, one of 100 Mao print? Purchase one of 1000 A4 size Monroe prints… Warhol’s ethos and method was perfect. For his contemporaries, for designers – it’s a template. For the consumer who buys in the the idea of ‘the artist’ as a genius, one-of-a-kind, font of creativity; well then its easy to dismiss and potentially uncomfortable to talk about.

Warhol took the exclusive, elitist, insular art world and subverted the entire thing in that he made the dirty little production secrets, the behind closed doors deals, the hedonistic art world his punctuation marks. He assembled a coherent language and used the disposability of modern culture as his footnotes. He packaged and sold it back to bankers, real estate moguls, advertising consultants. Art as business. Art as commodity. Art as a thing to be owned, experienced, enjoyed and ultimately repainted over again when the next big thing came along. It tapped in to the late 70s, early 80s vein of decadence and self made superstars, he took popular culture from its audience and sold it back to them as cultural artifacts.

He sounds just great. So why Warhol?

Warhol’s studio – Factory – employed a number of up and coming talent, working on screens, stretching canvas, even applying paint and producing work. Knowing this may cheapen Warhol as an artist for some people, to dilute him. For Typeface, it cements him as somebody who understood the tone and direction of cultural trends and the need for accessible, exclusive, easy to produce product. He produced and sold a lifestyle, a snapshot of the decadent, and you could have it in a colour that matched your rug.

It’s this production process that echoes the tone of his work. The very serious Andy Warhol as Creative Director, Andy Warhol and his design agency; producing art as commodity, all under one brand.

Factory worked in a similar way to many now established design agencies. Some agencies do a great job of continuing the Factory spirit, often selling creative work under a brand or name that no longer has any attachment to its original namesakes.

Both modern Design and Art studios take that Factory template, the studio template, but they treat it very differently.

In the art world, Damien Hirst as a studio seems to be a dirty little secret when compared to the design world’s take on the seasoned thought leader/designer with a hand picked team. The notion that you may be getting a watered down work of art because there is a process and a team behind it is contrasted by the idea that your business gets more value and experience when a larger design team works on your project.

Wolff Olins, Pentagram etc all started life under the superstar designer. In the case of Wolff Olins, those superstar designers moved on decades ago, leaving behind a still trading, incredibly well respected company. But are they Wolff Olins in pedigree and brand name only? Typeface doesn’t think so. If Wolf Olins can continue on in name, and the work still defines trends, and they’re still known for that classic Wolff Olins style, then surely the ethos has endured in to the next generation to inspire and be built upon?

None of this is separate, and that’s the point. Duchamp, Picasso, Rand, Warhol. Through to Basquiat, Banksy, Hirst and Emin. These are ongoing cultural conversations that splinter and branch. We move, as people living in the Digital Golden Age, between concepts made real and the physical seamlessly. Our world is one that’s punctuated with moments of instant gratification alongside instant disappointment. We consume, we reassess; adapt and move on. Warhol created and marketed the disposable to the consumer, he was so good at it that his disposable work dictated the ethos and tone of many of today’s contemporary artists. He was so good that his disposable throwaway commodities became relatable cultural touchstones that now command their own galleries, they went on to influence and dictate the thinkers and artists that we work with and look up to today. It’s important to understand your roots; but it’s also important to understand why they’re your roots, and what you can take from them.

And that’s why I like Andy Warhol.

On how the Designers Republic sculpted childhoods

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The Designers Republic are somewhat legendary. The Sheffield studio had a look and a style that shone through their work. Confident architectural shapes, thick lines, constrained abstracts and a very modern almost Japanese asthetic. While the studio itself closed doors in 2009, their work which spans back to the late 80s, still looks fresh. They worked with Aphex Twin, Pulp, The Orb. As well as brands like Adidas, Nokia and MTV. The impact that Designers Republic had on the way the 90s looked can’t be undersold and the influence they’ve had on today’s designers runs deep.

Back in 1995, Sony began their quest towards world domination, placing PlayStation kiosks in dance clubs across the UK in a very targeted marketing campaign. This was a brave move, they were selling to a hyper-aware audience, quick to react to and to define trends. Importantly, this was a market that could smell bullshit. What Sony shipped in the demo kiosks was a genuinely exciting new experience that made full use of their new PlayStation hardware. However, while Wipeout was a technical masterpiece at the time; there are arguably more enduring aspects that define it as a cultural touchstone.

Firstly, Wipeout didn’t just take influence from the UK club scene: It took the UK club scene. Music supplied and produced by Orbital, Leftfield and Chemical Brothers was presented alongside futuristic 3d visuals, twisting and winding tracks. A truly visceral experience.

But there was something else there, under those flashy graphics, independent of the music and the visuals. A genuine beating heart that also had its roots in the UK club scene, that came from Sheffield design studio, Designers Republic.

It’s interesting to compartmentalise Wipeout. You can split it easily in to the music, the visuals and that other thing. The thing that makes the experience complete, that you can’t quite put your finger on. This game just looks great. Every part of it looks great. Everything belongs and nothing looks out of place.

Brand languages

Liverpool based developer Psygnosis asked Designers Republic to produce a series of brands for each of the games futuristic racing teams. Each team would have its own logo and brand language, this follows through to trackside advertisements sponsor logos and background billboards. In fact, each track is littered with adverts for in game teams and fictional products alongside real world Red Bull adverts. This is branding at it’s best, the fictional made tangible and relatable.

It’s this care and attention to detail that grounds the experience, creating a universe and a language that doesn’t need to be explained; it just exists. This is F1 with hovercraft, it has no story but the setting is established and the experience is rich. Wipeout is peak Designers Republic; it’s confident and bold, it references its pedigree and it has an ordered, other worldly feel to it.

Legacy

Designers Republic has a legacy that spans decades, genres, disciplines and media. But it’s their influence on the sport that they referenced 22 years ago that Typeface finds most interesting.

Wipeout came out in 1995, it was a snapshot of the future. Fast, smooth racing, pounding beats and slick graphic design. It referenced F1 and the brand language that surrounds modern teams and sponsors. Now either Designers Republic had the foresight and vision to take modern F1 branding to its logical conclusion, predicting the future only a couple of decades early. Or contemporary sports teams and brands are looking towards video games and esports to stay visually relevant. Here is the 2017 Formula 1 rebrand. It’s very slick.

And here’s the typeface, F1 Regular.

It’s not unusual for a brand to have its own typeface. With the saturation of high resolution screens on even mid range laptops, mobiles and tablets; brands are able to invest in and re-use high quality assets like custom fonts. The F1 font is gorgeous. Angular, architectural and kinetic. It’s familiar though, which starts to make sense when you deconstruct it.

The above is the typeface used in Wipeout. In menus, on screen text and background imagery. Produced in 1995 by Designers Republic. This is used at the very basic level of interaction, before we even get to see the hovercraft, the sponsors and the brand languages. Before we even get to race.

This is the typeface used on the cover of the box that the game came in, and it perfectly describes the content contained inside.

There is a very special breed of artist that can follow something to its logical conclusion. Almost seeming to predict the future. Graphic designers should be able to produce work that both references the past and looks towards the future. Enduring work that inspires trends doesn’t have to rely on them if it’s aware of its audience, how they react and where they’re going.

Designers Republic may have closed their doors, and Wipeout, while still a great experience, looks tired and is very much a product of its time. But the work produced by Designers Republic still looks unique and it still inspires modern brands, aesthetic and today’s designers.

More Reading

Graham Smith at The Logo Smith has written a great article that delves in to the history of the Wipeout logo, which you can read here.  

Look at the things you’re ignoring

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Look at the things you don’t like. Then ask yourself why you don’t like them.

Graffiti is a great example of this. People tend to see the value or they hate it. There really isn’t much middle ground.

As a collective and as lovers of contemporary art  – as long as it’s presented correctly – society will fawn over a Banksy because we know its OK to do so. We’ll go to see their ironic takeover of an art gallery, or absorb the review in the Guardian’s Culture section on a Monday morning. The real irony being that we are giving weight to a street artist collective based on the setting and them meeting our own expectations. The exclusivity is still there, it still exists but now it’s accessible. If you want it. The real treat, the bones of the statement is all laid out in plain sight … Of all the cities Banksy could have held an art gallery takeover in, they chose Bristol.

Bristol. A living, breathing canvas. How many London Police murals or Invader mosaics went unnoticed as punters walked through that constantly evolving, trendsetting urban gallery to the Bristol Museum? Were we, the audience, the joke all along? And knowing that, how am I, ‘the audience’ supposed to feel? Uncomfortable?

Isn’t art great.

Typeface – or rather, Pete – has a relationship with Tracey Emin that borders on the abusive. I used to rant about her work and resent that she was Artist du Jour and our focus at college. A regular Duchamp unfolding in front of our eyes.

I saw her work and thought I could do that. Even though I hadn’t done that. As a Film student I’d laugh at at her childish use of Film, pointing out how none of the shots were framed correctly. I’d say all this, sat in a dark screening room in the Tate, Liverpool, watching her home movie for the fourth time in a row. I’d read articles, reviews and interviews with Tracey just to wind myself up, If I didn’t see them organically and I knew she’d released new work then I’d seek them out. I’d rant about her if she came up in conversation. I’d learn about her work so I could dismiss it with eloquence, just to sound like I knew what I was talking about.

Then one day in 2009 it clicked, and I realised that she’s held my attention for over ten years now. She’s made me constantly question what I think I know about art. Her perspective and the way she looks at the world is so different to mine, that she gave me an insight into a world that I had no frame of reference for; or any right to be peering in to. She wasn’t worthy to me because she wasn’t Hirst, or Perry; I knew they were good. Yet I hated her output so much that I read about new works, I’d go to see them, I’d pour over them. She made me feel such a strong emotional reaction that one day, mid rant, I realised this is one of my favourite artists of all time. And I hate what she does.

She was only doing what every artist for 100 years had been doing. Trying to answer Duchamp’s question, using her own voice and experience. Let’s not forget, in his time Duchamp shook the world by asking what is art, and he asked it with an artwork that was literally designed to funnel piss.

Looking around you is difficult

Actually look around you. Look at your surroundings. Look at them because they’re yours, you might not like aspects of them but they can belong to you if you let them. On the commute, in your neighbourhood; look at the things you’re trying not to notice. Our day-to-day life is rife with culture that we choose not to see. We look at design, at art, at other people’s experience every day and we dismiss them because we dont have the tools, the frame of reference or the history to understand them. We dismiss things because they aren’t presented in a way that we’re told is OK. Conversely we accept things when we’re told this is fine, you can enjoy this thing, but only in this setting. 

Introduction to Art versus Design

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Are art and design interchangeable? Where is the overlap?

It’s fun to generalise.

Effective design is about communicating a message. To do that, we need three things. Firstly, to define the audience, their culture and their tone. We need to define and simplify the message, where does the client fit in to the wider cultural landscape, what value does the client add? We need to identify the client’s needs and set clear goals; from increased web traffic, higher sales or a heightened brand awareness.

A well designed piece of creative doesn’t have to be aesthetically pleasing to be effective. It probably shouldn’t follow trends. It should be aware of its audience and their needs, and it probably shouldn’t pose more questions than it answers.

Art doesn’t need to be aesthetically pleasing either. It doesn’t really need to be anything. It doesn’t have to evoke feeling or meaning because it can lean on it’s audience to answer questions based on their own personal experience. It can open the artist up to an audience because it’s allowed to be vulnerable. Art is allowed to be difficult to understand and it’s allowed to rely on the work, cultural touchstones and questions asked by previous artists.

2017 marked 100 years since Duchamp posed the question “what is art?”, and for 100 years artists have been trying to answer his question in their own way. In contrast, Typeface muse Paul Rand embraced simplicity, utilitarianism and symbolism to make the statement “this is design”.

Art asks questions, while Design answers questions, but where is the overlap? What do you get when you take the brutal simplicity of a urinal and compare what came after it with the constrained Godfather of modern graphic design?

You get Andy Warhol. Warhol is where things start to get complicated and that’s why he’s exciting. Over the next few months, Typeface will try to explore this intertwined world of art and design; touching on some of the influencers who have sculpted the thought and ethos behind the creative process and method behind Typeface as both a commercial product and as a creative agency.